How to Start Your own Wine Cellar

POSTED ON 01/03/2008

‘How do I go about starting a wine cellar’? Rather than ‘is it time to drink this 1960 beaujolais nouveau?’ or ‘where can I buy that nice rosé I enjoyed on my summer holiday?’, this is the kind of question featuring prominently in the wine writer’s FAQ in-tray that I do relish. I’m no longer surprised at how keen so many wine drinkers are to stash a few well-chosen bottles away. What is disappointing though is that too often lack of time, knowledge or confidence turns what should be an adventure into fear of uncharted wine racks, bins and other vinous impedimenta.

It’s not hard to see why. We are so spoilt for choice in the value for money and range of wines available that the easy option is to stick to time-honoured buying patterns of convenience: stick a bottle in the supermarket trolley or pick something up from the offie on the way home. Supermarkets and high street chains do a great job of lulling us into a cosy feeling that they have all our wine needs covered. What they can’t do so easily is satisfy the sweeling ranks of wine drinkers who want to find out more about wine’s endlessly exciting multiplicity of flavours and how the genie got into the bottle into the first place.

If you’re keen to start a cellar, you needn’t think of it as involving an all-consuming layout of capital, time and space. With the help of a wine guide, wine column or magazine, you can dip a toe in the water with a case, mixed or unmixed, of wines, whether from a Majestic, Waitrose or independent wine merchant. There: you’ve made a start. Most independent specialists will offer help with choosing what to buy and helping you work out how long the wine needs before it’s ready for drinking. If you want to go further, specialists such as Berry Bros & Rudd, Justerini & Brooks and Jeroboams offer a monthly payment cellar plan, tailoring the choice of wines to your needs, tastes and budget. No room at the inn? Use a wine merchant’s bonded warehouse facility to store your wine for a relatively small annual fee per case.

To help our three chosen wine consumers with starting a cellar, this month we are featuring a single woman and two couples, all of whom are who are typical in the sense that they’re all keen to get a wine collection of sorts under way. They are relatively ‘cash-rich, time-poor’, in the jargon. They have the desire and enough disposable income to stash a few, or more than a few, wines away. And they enjoy drinking wine in a variety of social situations, but don’t hang around at home waiting for the latest issue of The Wine Expectorator to mug up on the finer points. They may not be Decanter readers, not yet anyway, but what they have in common is a thirst for the appreciation and enjoyment of better wines.

While they all eat and drink at home a fair bit, it’s largely their experience of a fabulous wine they’ve drunk while eating out, visiting a winery or wine fair that has triggered a desire to learn more and drink better. They shop in the high street, but have also discovered the benefits of the range, personal advice and service of the independent wine merchant. Thanks to different tastes, lifestyles and budgets though, they have different drinking needs. Any advice on buying wines for their respective cellars needs a horses for courses element to it. An expensive red that the more traditionally orientated Alan and Linda will love may not necessarily appeal to Ravi and Nadia’s preference for more generously flavoured, New World reds. As a sociable single woman, Natalia needs good bottles she can share with friends when she’s out.

The aim of the advice is to increase their range of buying options based on their stated preferences. One thing they are clearly not remotely interested in is wine for investment. They want to be able to choose a wine from the cellar for the pure pleasure of drinking it, sharing it and the cellar-owner’s special thrill of being able to come back for more. After each profile, I’ve offered some general advice on where and what to buy based on what they’ve told me about their drinking habits and objectives. To add choice and range to their cellars, I’ve given broad drinking period estimates and gone for the most part for six packs with a few 12 bottle cases for Linda and Alan’s grander cellar.

Nadia Persaud and Ravi Ramlakhan

Nadia Persaud and Ravi Ramlakhan live in London together, where Nadia works as a solicitor specialising in medical law and he works in trading equity derivates. They met in Guyana seven years ago, returning to England and setting up house together in 2001. Both born in England, their respective parents are from Guyana, which Ravi calls ‘very much a beer and rum’n coke place’, although wine is becoming trendy thanks to the burgeoning middle classes and the ex pat community.

Although her job as a litigation lawyer can be stressful at times, Nadia enjoys the fact that it’s challenging and not desk based. Because of the long hours, it’s very sociable and there’s always an excuse to have a drink or two with colleagues. As well as the ad hoc drinks, there are organised end of month drinks, almost weekly chambers’ garden parties in the summer and an annual charity ball. There are also drinks after each weekly partners’ meeting. On the day I talked to her and Ravi, she was missing a wine tasting session at her Holborn offices.

At home, Nadia and Ravi are comparatively modest in their consumption with generally a glass of red a night during the working week and a couple of glasses, or perhaps more, at weekends, depending on their social plans. They are members of their local running club, have both run a marathon, and are keen on exercise. ‘Exercise and well-being is a strong feature of our lives because we’re genetically bestowed with bad genes’, says Ravi. ‘Having family histories of people keeling over with diabetes and heart disease, we’re also aware of that working a stressful job can cause chronic problems’.

Ravi is more of white wine drinker, enjoying aromatic whites and sparkling wines although usually drinks red when they’re together because Nadia but prefers reds, Chilean especially. Nadia likes what she calls ‘warm wines’, and she’s also aware of the health benefit claims for red wine because of its resveratrol content. Their normal guide to quality is price, spending on average £7 - £10 on a bottle except for the odd occasion when they might spend up to £20 for people coming round. They have a wine rack that holds 12 bottles, a cupboard for extra wines and spirits and keep white wines and sparkling wines in the fridge.

Since enjoying a Chilean merlot at Smithfields Bar and Grill and a trip to the Cape this year, where they visited Haute Cabrière in Franschhoek and Vergelegen in Stellenbosch, they have been inspired to want to drink better wines. ‘I don’t know much about grape varieties. I’d like to be more discerning about the wines I’d like to drink and where I can find them and understand a bit more what makes a good wine’, says Nadia. They have discovered a small independent wine merchant locally which they buy from ‘because the man in there knows a lot about wines, which makes it more interesting’.

Ravi and Nadia are one or perhaps two stages beyond the ‘I don’t know much about wine but I know what I like’ category’. They are not wine novices but pretty much on the second rung of the wine ladder and are now keen to move to the next rung of drinking better wines and exploring further. They clearly appreciate what they drink and accept that they’ll need to pay a bit more for higher quality wines that they’ll be drinking, not necessarily every day, but on occasions together and with friends. Their taste is towards the fruitier New World styles of red and they both enjoy sparkling wine, so it’s on that basis that I’m making suggestions for their cellar. Advice is based on wines to drink over the coming year or two.

Nadia and Ravi’s £500 cellar

For drinking 2008 - 2009

6 bottles 2006 Wakefield Estate Chardonnay, Australia, £35.94, Majestic
6 bottles 2006 Adobe Merlot, Chile, £29.94, Majestic
6 bottles 2006 Los Molles Carmenère, Chile, £46.74, Marks & Spencer
6 bottles 2006 Viña Leyda Cahuil Pinot Noir, Leyda Valley, Chile, £59.70 Great Western Wine, Bath, 01225 322800 /
6 bottles 2002 Mount Langi Ghiran Cliff Edge Shiraz, Australia, £59.94, Majestic
6 bottles 2004 Jacob’s Creek Reserve Shiraz, Australia, £47.94, Asda, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose.
3 bottles 2003 Antiyal, Alvaro Espinoza, Maipo Valley, Chile, £59.97, Adnams
6 bottles Green Point NV Rosé, Methode Traditionelle, £65.94, Australia, Sainsbury’s, Majestic
6 bottles Champagne Carlin Blanc de Blancs Brut , £101.94, The Real Wine Company
Total: £508.05

Natalia Westgarth

Natalia Westgarth grew up in Sydney, came to England in 1999 on holiday, and stayed. As a child she remembers her mother drinking Moselle (sic) and riesling, and when in Australia, her preferences were mostly for chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon. In London she shares a mews house with a friend and works for an executive search company. She enjoys eating out and socialising and she tries to get out of the city at weekends. She mainly drinks wine meeting friends after work, or out at a friend’s house, ‘or any time really’. She loves matching wine with food but sometimes find it a struggle to find wines with her favourite foods: spicy curries and Japanese.

Most of her friends order pinot grigio if they want white or merlot if red. ‘I think they drink it because they don’t know what else to order. I’m trying to turn convert them!’ If she takes a bottle somewhere, it depends where she’s going or who she’s seeing. ‘It’s usually a bottle of soave for guzzling - ‘a step up from pinot grigio which I find quite bland or something more special if I think they’ll appreciate it’. She’s visited a few wineries in Australia, Spain and France. ‘The most enjoyable visits are the smaller ones, family run operations where they’ll sit down and talk about their wines because they’re passionate about it. I went with some friends recently to Codorniu in Spain and the cava was nice enough, but it was, like, look at us and our big brand. I preferred the visit to Jean León. I went to the Wine Show in London too with friends. It was great’.

She still likes Australian chardonnay, also champagne and sparkling wine, ‘the drier the better’ and enjoys rioja, bordeaux, and soave at the moment. ‘If I’m having dinner at home with a housemate and friends, I’d spend £5 - £8 on a chardonnay, soave, rioja, cava, or Aussie cab sauv. If I’m going for dinner to someone who appreciates wine, I might spend £10 - £12’. She might splash out on a really nice bottle for presents but worries that spending up to £30 she might end up ‘with something ordinary’. For that reason, she goes into Philglas & Swiggot at Clapham Junction ‘because they know a lot about their stock and like to share the knowledge’. She tends to buy two to four bottles of wine a week, occasionally buying half a case of something she knows and loves the 2004 The Chocolate Block.

At home, she has a space under the stairs which is dark, free from vibration and holds between 50 and 100 bottles. She recently went through the wine she’s accumulated (‘which was more than I thought’), categorizing what to drink when. She wants to lay down a few bottles of Bordeaux, white burgundy, some Western Australian red, and if there’s any money left in the budget, some champagne.

Like many Australians brought up within spitting distance of a wine region, Natalia knows a lot about wine, having visited wineries at home and enjoyed occasional visits to vineyards on her travels in Europe. She might not class herself a connoisseur or fine wine drinker but she knows her grape varieties and has a pretty good idea of the kind of styles of wine she likes drinking. She has space in her house for the cellar she’s looking for, which helps, and although she doesn’t read avidly about wine and is not interested in investing, she is prepared to spend time categorizing what to drink when. She is easy to buy for then, although whether her discerning palate is easy to please, I’m not sure. The recommendations are for wines for drinking over the next year to three years.

Natalia’s £1,000 cellar

For drinking 2008 – 2009

6 bottles 2006 Gavi Cristina, Ascheri, Italy, £59.94, Sainsbury’s
6 bottles 2006 La Monacesca, Verdicchio di Matelica, Italy, £47.94, Waitrose.
6 bottles 2003 Chateau Beaumont, Haut-Médoc, £77.94, Berry Bros.
6 bottles 2001 Château Batailley, Pauillac, £119.94, Majestic Wine Warehouses
6 bottles 2003 Frankland Estate Olmo’s Reward, Western Australia, £100.50, BBR
3 bottles 2003 Antiyal, Alvaro Espinoza, Maipo Valley, Chile, £59.97, Adnams
6 bottles Champagne Carlin Blanc de Blancs Brut , £101.94, The Real Wine Company

For drinking 2008 – 2010 +

6 bottles 2006 St.Aubin Premier Cru, Gérard Thomas, £77.94, Majestic
6 bottles 2005 Woodlands Margaret River, Cabernet Merlot ‘Margaret’ Reserve, Western Australia, £131.70, Great Western Wines
3 bottles 2005 The Chocolate Block, South Africa £53.97, Waitrose on line
6 bottles 2004 Baron de Ley Finca Monasterio, Rioja, £89.94, Tesco
6 bottles 2006 TMV Swartland Syrah, South Africa, £77.94, Waitrose

Total = £999.66

Linda and Alan Upton

Alan & Linda Upton live in Rothley, a small Leicestershire village with a population of around 3000. Alan started his business in 1970, meeting Linda the following year in Manchester after she had come over from Norway to be au-pair for the Norwegian consul. Their eldest son, 35, is a director of the family business, their 32 year old is a former musician turned author who currently works in New York, whilst their 21 year old daughter is studying for an MA in sociology of anthropology at SOAS London.

Alan is chairman of his own company, a privately owned steel stock holding and distribution business with 90 employees and a turnover of £40 million. Typically, he and Linda eat out two or three evenings a week. ‘Our preference for restaurants is anything from Joel Robuchon in London to The Khyber, a very good Indian in Leicester. There are also some good places in the Shires for special occasions, such as Hambleton Hall’, says Alan.

With meals at home they generally have a bottle of wine, sometimes more. Linda’s preference is for light to medium-bodied Italian reds like Chianti, although at a friend’s house for supper recently, they enjoyed two amarones, one brought by them and the other served by their host. Alan’s preference is for Bordeaux, particularly Margaux and Pauillac, but not top end and he also enjoys white Burgundy and Sancerre, but finds they can be a little acid. New world wines interest them, but they find many ‘a little too sweet for our liking’.

The average price band Linda spends at Sainsbury’s or Marks & Spencer is £8 - £15, while Alan buys the more expensive wines, mostly from merchants such as Les Caves du Patron in Frances Street, Leicester, George Hill of Loughborough and a local deli, North’s of Rothley. On average they consume four to five bottles a week. ‘When our children are at home it could be quite a lot more! We might have people round for supper once or twice a month and I would be happy to serve bottles costing £40 to £50 at a dinner party because that’s what we would expect to pay if we were eating out’.

Their early 20th century house has underground access to a cool, dry wine cellar which has a series of 4cm diameter clay pipes arranged to provide 20 cells, each capable of storing 18 bottles. Currently the Uptons have a few bottles of 1963 Dow’s port, which they have tended to give as christening presents, two to three dozen Puligny Montrachets and a selection of mid-range Pauillacs and Margaux, mostly 1986 and 1988, bought from a wine merchant last year. ‘I am getting to the stage where I realize how little I know about wine. I would like to know a bit more’, says Alan.

Linda and Alan Upton have a pretty good idea of the kind of wines that they like and are in the fortunate position of having both a wine cellar area and the necessary disposable income to be able to pay for them. They would like to know a little more about the kind of wines they enjoy and while their palate is on the traditional side, it may well be, as far as whites are concerned at least, that Alan would enjoy a few softer styles to reduce his heartburn. They could probably afford to spend a little more on the wines they drink, and so I am advising that they spend at least some of the £5,000 on a handful of superior styles of the wines they like to lay for future drinking on special occasions, and possibly presents. I have divided their cellar into wines for drinking from now and over the next two to five years, wines for laying down for from 5 to 10 years, and a few for the long haul.

Linda and Alan’s £5,000 cellar

Drink 2008 – 2009

6 bottles 2006 Bordeaux Sauvignon, Château Reynon, £74.94, Andrew Chapman Fine Wines, Cooden Cellars, Halifax Wine Company
6 bottles Sancerre Chavignol Les Comtesses, Paul Thomas, £56.95, Majestic
6 bottles 2006 Wairau River Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand, £53.94, Ellis of Richmond
Wine Cellars
6 bottles 2006 Nautilus Pinot Gris, New Zealand, £77.94, Christopher Piper Wines, Wimbledon
6 bottles St. Véran Les Crais, Domaine Cordier, £98.94, Majestic
6 bottles 2005 Craiglee Chardonnay, Australia, £105, Berry Bros. & Rudd
6 bottles 2005 Eileen Hardy Chardonnay, Australia, £101.94, Philglas & Swiggot, Noel Young
6 bottles 2001 L’Enclos de Lezongars, Bordeaux, around £65, Longford Wine Merchants, Corks Out, Prestige Wines, The Warehouse Wine Co.
6 bottles 2001 Château Batailley, Pauillac, £120, Majestic Wine Warehouses
6 bottles 1998 Château La Dominique, St-Emilion, £125, Farr Vintners
6 bottles 2000 Poggio alle Mura, Brunello di Montalcino, Italy, £150, Majestic
6 bottles 2004 Scuola Toscana IGT, Sorelli, £119.88, Italy, Majestic
12 bottles 2004 Allegrini Palazzo della Torre, Rosso Veronese, Italy, £155.88, Majestic
12 bottles 2004 Chianti Classico, Fontodi, Italy, £179.40, Booths, Valvona & Crolla
6 bottles 1995 Croft Quinta da Roeda, Portugal, £75.96, Threshers
6 bottles Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve mise en cave 2003, £161.94, Sainsbury’s

Drink 2010 - 2015

6 bottles 2005 Meursault Charmes, Syvain Loichet, £198, Berry Bros & Rudd.
6 bottles 2003 Christoffel Erben Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Spätlese, Mosel, £81.07 Howard Ripley
6 bottles 2001 Château de Beaucastel, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, £190, Farr Vintners
6 bottles 2003 Amarone della Valpolicella Classico, Allegrini, Italy, £221.70, Andrew Chapman, Noel Young, The Secret Cellar, Villeneuve Wines
6 bottles 2004 Roc de Cambes, Côtes de Bourg, £210, Corney & Barrow
12 bottles 2005 Château d’Aiguilhe, Côtes de Castillon, £145 (IB), Albany Vintners
12 bottles 2005 Château d’Angludet, Haut-Médoc, £199, C.A.Rookes, Stratford-on-Avon
6 bottles 2005 Château Rozier, Saint Emilion Grand Cru, £93, Berry Bros. & Rudd
12 bottles 2005 Château La Lagune, Haut-Médoc, £325, Robert Rolls
12 bottles 2005 Bald Hills Pinot Noir, New Zealand, £202.34, Ellis of Richmond
6 bottles 2005 Domaine des Croix, David Croix, Beaune 1er Cru, £153, BBR
6 bottles 2003 Bodegas Alion, Ribera del Duero, Spain, £216, Berry Bros.
6 bottles 2005 Quinta do Vale Dona Maria Douro Red, Portugal, £107.50, Laithwaites, Tanners
6 bottles 2005 Nebbiolo Langhe, £119.94, Italy, Wimbledon Wine Cellars
6 bottles 2004 Yarra Yering Dry Red No. 2, Australia, £211.50, BBR
12 bottles 2005 Domaine Saint Préfert, Réserve August Favier, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, £195 (IB), A & B Wine Merchants
3 bottles 1998 Pol Roger Champagne, £128.97, BBR, Majestic, Oddbins

Total = £5,005.69


On the ‘relatively affordable’ list such as the well-crafted, full-flavoured chardonnays of the Pouilly Fuissé en Carementrant and Pouilly Vinzelles, Les Quarts from the Bret Brothers, each £180, BBR and the effortlessly stylish Pouilly Fuissé la Côte, £144, and Les Crays, £156, from Domaine Eric Forest, LW.

Still more affordable, the Domaine des Vieilles Pierre’s St. Véran Les Pommards, £65, and Vieilles Vignes, £75, JB, are a steal, along with Patrick Javillier’s Bourgogne Cuvée Oligocène, £120, JB, £125, Loeb, £129, LW. In the Côte de Beaune, the Meursault and Chassagne Montrachet producers Franck Grux and Marc Morey, respectively, each declassify some of their chardonnay into straight Bourgogne, and I found both the meursault-like Bourgogne Blanc, Les Grandes Coutures from Grux, £123, HHC, and the richly-fruited Bourgogne, Marc Morey, £100, both good buys. For those with more elastic pockets, among the star white burgundy performers are Jean-Philippe Fichet, Drouhin Clos des Mouches, Blain Gagnard, Arnaud Ente, Vincent Dancer, Bachelet Monnot, Martelet de Cherisey, Etienne Sauzet, Hubert Lamy, Darviot-Perrin, and Bruno Colin.

2006 may generally be more of a white than red burgundy vintage, but this is burgundy, where generalizations are made at your peril. While good affordable reds may be harder to track down, there are in fact a number of fragrant, silky pinot noirs around, starting with an attractively fruity Bourgogne Passetoutgrains, £84, BBR, from Scotsman David Clark, a juicy Bourgogne Pinot Noir, Alain Jeanniard, £98, HHC and an approachable and spicy Beaune 1er cru Grèves, Tollot Beaut, £117, 6 bottles, LW.

Higher up the quality scale, it’s hard to choose from the voluptuous Bourgogne, Cuvée du Noble Souche, Denis Mortet, £150, JB, a moreishly berryish Auxey-Duress 1er cru, Comte Armand, £180, BBR, the perfumed, red-fruited Savigny Lavières, Chandon de Briailles, £180, HHC, £183, CT, and vivid Aloxe-Corton, Follin-Arbelet, £180, JB. Among other fine red burgundy producers to look out for in 2006: Comte Armand Clos des Épeneaux, Nicolas Potel, Thibault Liger-Belair, Jean Grivot, Faiveley, Etienne de Montille, Jacques Frédéric Mugnier Clos de la Maréchale, Domaine du Comte Liger-Belair, Aleth Girardin, Humbert Frères, Georges Mugneret et Mugneret-Gibourg. Red and white burgundies are made in more limited quantities than Bordeaux and rarely appear on the secondary market, so judicious buying pre-release makes sound sense.

6 bottles 2004 Roc de Cambes, Côtes de Bourg, £210, Corney & Barrow

6 bottles 2005 Château Rozier, Saint Emilion Grand Cru, £93, Berry Bros. & Rudd
6 bottles 2005 Domaine des Croix, David Croix, Beaune 1er Cru, £153, BBR
6 bottles 2003 Bodegas Alion, Ribera del Duero, Spain, £216, Berry Bros.
6 bottles 2005 Quinta do Vale Dona Maria Douro Red, Portugal, £107.50, Laithwaites, Tanners
6 bottles 2004 Yarra Yering Dry Red No. 2, Australia, £211.50, BBR
3 bottles 1998 Pol Roger Champagne, £128.97, BBR, Majestic, Oddbins

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